The millennial generation is starting to flood the IT workforce. This new generation of talent brings with it radically different expectations about the nature of work; how, when and where it's done; and how organizations can leverage technology to best support professional and personal needs. Businesses must make some dramatic changes to their workforce strategies if they're to meet those differing expectations, cope with the rapid pace of technological advancement and compete effectively in the digital era.
There's a significant gap between what millennials want from their workplaces and what's currently offered, according to a new study by Randstad Technologies. The report, Preparing for the Millennial Shift, was conducted between October 31, 2014 and November 11, 2014, focused on organizations with more than 1,000 employees with specific IT job titles and garnered 134 respondents.
Technology's not quite ready for millennials
Two-thirds of respondents said they currently have or are formulating a plan to address millennials' technology needs, while one-third of respondents admit they have not addressed millennial-related technology issues in any formal way, says Alisia Genzler, vice president, Randstad Technologies.
While it may not seem like a big problem now, it certainly will be soon, Genzler says. Approximately one out of every three employees falls into the millennial category. In roughly 10 years, Genzler estimates that millennials will make up three quarters of the workforce. "Millennials have grown up in a digital society and technology has been everywhere in their lives. At home, at school, at work -- they expect that when they enter the professional sphere that the same rules will apply. A lot of companies are talking about how to support and engage millennials, but there are so many that are not even close to doing so, and those who don't are at a major competitive disadvantage," Genzler says.
To attract and retain millennial talent IT leaders need to rapidly adopt current and forward-thinking technologies and innovative strategies into their infrastructures. Organizations that are unable to support millennials' IT needs may see greater turnover and experience more difficulty recruiting top talent from this demographic of the workforce.
It all starts with technology, according to Genzler, who says, "Mobile's one of the major areas of importance for IT departments to focus on as they're shifting to more of a millennial mindset. And with that comes a need for remote work solutions as well as security solutions that support and secure mobility."
To highlight this he points to the Randstad survey, which reveals that 78 percent of polled IT leaders have seen an increase in their organization's mobile/remote workforce; 70 percent of respondents rated mobile technology as necessary to support millennials in the workforce. Additionally, 60 percent of IT leaders plan to increase investments in mobile within the next year, at least in part to support this growing demographic, the survey showed.
Communicate and collaborate
Hand-in-hand with mobility is a demand for communication and collaboration tools, according to the survey. More than half (57 percent) of respondents view communication and collaboration tools as essential to supporting the millennial shift, and 43 percent say they plan to increase investments in these technologies.
But it's not just millennials who are demanding these solutions; talent from the baby boomer generation that works as consultants or on a part-time or flexible basis, or employees that have full-time remote work situations also benefit, according to Genzler. "Unified communications has already been widely adopted and is widely used by boomers and Generation X. But now there's even greater emphasis on these technologies and different channels for communication and collaboration," she says.
The majority of companies recognize that these new technologies create new security concerns, and 43 percent of respondents consider security management essential to supporting this millennial shift, the survey showed. In addition, 51 percent of respondents plan to increase investments in security management systems over the next year.
"We see a huge increase in investment in security over the next year in response to the shift to remote work and mobile technologies. Millennials don't think about security issues -- they're just not front-of-mind for this generation, and they just expect that antivirus, antispam, patches, all of those measure will just happen without effort on their end. Companies need to make sure this happens -- there's no room for error," Genzler says.
Head in the cloud(s)
Cloud-based email, project management systems, CRM, ERP and other enterprise software systems are already prevalent, so it is no surprise that 40 percent of organizations responding to the survey recognize that cloud computing is a requirement to meet changing workplace dynamics. Forty-nine percent of respondents say they will invest or increase investments in cloud computing over the next year.
"Cloud computing is now a requirement to meet these changing workforce dynamics. The cloud enables mobility, remote work, collaboration and communication, so it's the foundation on which most of these organizations' infrastructure is built," says Genzler.
But it's about much more than just new or improved technology, she adds. The influx of millennials into the workforce requires a significant shift in mindset, management and culture. "The millennial generation is forcing organizations to rethink everything: technology, relationships, culture, engagement, loyalty, retention. What motivates millennials is so much different than what motivates other generations. They want flexibility, work-life balance, purpose and meaning in their work so you also have to focus on those aspects of your organization," Genzler says.
Redefined for a new generation
Outside of technology, organizations need to redefine themselves and emphasize their cool factor, says Jewell Parkinson, head of HR for SAP North America. "When it comes down to it, what we're trying to do is redefine what it means to be 'cool' at SAP. To reach talent that may have heard of us, but who don't believe they'd fit in because we're not a hot new startup; we're emphasizing that the work is fun and rewarding and that they'll be challenged and find mission and purpose if they work here," Parkinson says.
Culture is a key differentiator for millennials as they look for employment, says Parkinson. This generation wants more than just a paycheck - they want to see that their work directly impacts a greater corporate mission and vision, and they want to be recognized and rewarded for meaningful work. "We are emphasizing culture as a key enabler of our long-term success. We want to represent the mission and values of our employees through our culture authentically by providing meaningful work a fun, challenging environment and fair pay," she says.
Streamlined recruiting and hiring
One area SAP's focusing on is improving processes around recruiting, hiring and performance management, according to Parkinson. A simplified, streamlined process makes it easier for great talent to find their place at SAP, and for SAP to identify and attract hot talent.
"We want to find the simplest, most intuitive and harmonious process for attracting and hiring talent, and also focus on improving our dialogue and feedback process once they're hired. Millennials are looking for ongoing mentoring and coaching, so we're emphasizing informal dialogues around performance instead of the twice a year performance reviews," she says.
Simplify the work itself
Parkinson says simplifying the process by which work is done is another focus for SAP. This involves making remote work opportunities, flexible work schedules and other work-life-balance-friendly policies available to more talent to support the new way work is done.
"We want to make getting work done easier for all our people through cutting-edge tech, through easier access from any location, through our mobile device strategy. For us, looking at ways we can remove complexity and obstacles to productivity is a huge part of this strategy," Parkinson says.
With five generations of talent in the workforce at once, it's important to focus on diversity, Parkinson says. Whether that means inclusivity based on age, race, ethnicity or sex, diversity must be a crucial part of a successful business strategy.
"All of this diversity is impacting the workforce, and there's a huge opportunity to grow our reach and our knowledge base by recruiting diverse talent. So we've introduced awareness programs around diversity and around understanding and identifying the unconscious biases that exist and how to combat those," she says.
Emphasize learning and continuing education
What employees fear more than anything is becoming irrelevant; that their skills will become obsolete, says Parkinson. To address that, she says SAP is taking a bullish approach to ongoing learning to keep skills fresh and employees engaged.
"We want to have a very holistic learning experience to keep our talent motivated and their skills relevant. We're organizing the experience so that it's much more role-based and targeted to their specific career path, but also working on making it easily accessible through mobile technology, social media and collaboration. We've also put analytics in place so we can see outcomes and measure the ROI of these initiatives," she says.
A clear path for growth
Finally, showing workers that there's a clear path for growth and development within an organization is key to attracting and retaining millennial talent, Parkinson says. Part of that is an increased focus on transparency so workers know where they've been as well as where they're likely to go.
"We want to be able to see what skills they have, what their potential is, how upwardly mobile they are, what their pay is compared to others in the company and in the industry as a whole. Are they engaged? What are they learning and what do they want to learn? How can we best support those desires? Clearing a path for growth will make sure we're being proactive, not reactive, to changing market conditions," Parkinson says.
Implementing successful workforce strategies and leveraging cutting-edge technology won't happen overnight, but by doing so, businesses can more effectively compete in a fast-paced, ever-changing IT business landscape.